I had a dream this morning that my brother fell off a cliff into a raging river, and I couldn’t save him. It was a “screamer,” my affectionate term for a night terror. I woke my husband crying for help. He had to basically hold me down until I stopped shaking. I couldn’t breathe. Once I realized where I was, I clung to him and sobbed.
I’ve had nightmares my entire life, but screamers have become rarer and rarer over the years. That doesn’t mean they’re gone. Very few aspects of my mental illness are ever gone; they just take breaks. For instance, I’ve been waking up feeling okay lately. I don’t feel okay today. I feel sad and panicky. Scared.
Nightmares don’t just happen in our beds. Mine, at least, tend to follow me throughout the day. I will be seeing the image of my brother being sucked underwater for at least twenty-four hours, maybe longer. I’m a writer. I’m great at visualizing things. When I write, I even visualize scenes like movie storyboards.
This is why I’m careful about what I consume. I’m not talking about pizza toppings. I mean I’m careful about what I watch. For instance, Jake and I started watching a movie called Polar recently because we both love Mads Mikkelsen. As soon as his character drilled a, well, drill into a villain’s forehead (extreme gore, folks), I told Jake, “Turn this shit off.” I knew that image would haunt me, and I didn’t want to know what other images would eventually be warped by my too-creative subconscious into a screamer.
Same with the news. I stopped watching the news years ago. I apologize for my ignorance over some current affairs, but it’s either I sound informed in political debates or I sleep better at night.
Nightmares often make their way into my fictional works, probably because they’re such a big part of my life. Real life tends to pour into my fiction–an exorcism of sorts. Get the poison out by putting it on the page. (Actually, more on that later today. I’m making an announcement on my writing blog in a bit in direct relation to this.)
I know I’ve been dealing with nightmares my entire life, but it never gets easier after screamer nights. Right now, I feel disoriented, unfocused, with a curious lump of dread in my chest as if my stupid dream portends some future event. No, my nightmares have never come true, but they feel true in the moment, and this moment is all we have.